Why classical myth and autism?

Why classical myth and autism?

The idea for this project started to take shape at a meeting in 2008 with a special needs teacher, who mentioned that, in her experience and those of her colleagues, autistic children often enjoy classical myth. I began to wonder why this might be the case, and whether – as a classicist who researches, and loves, classical myth – there was anything I could contribute. I started this blog to report on my progress which was often sporadic until the launch of the Warsaw-based European Research Council-funded project Our Mythical Childhood (2016-22) to trace the role of classics in children’s culture.

My key contribution to the project is an exploration of classics in autistic children’s culture, above all by producing myth-themed activities for autistic children. This blog shares my progress, often along Herculean paths, including to a book of lessons for autistic children focusing on the Choice of Hercules between two very different paths in life. The image above, illustrating the homepage of this blog, is one of the drawings by Steve K. Simons, the book's illustrator, of a chimneypiece panel in a neoclassical villa at Roehampton in South West London. The lessons centre on this panel.

Monday, 20 December 2021

"Outstanding books" about autism Part 3: Funny - you don't look autistic

For a couple of weeks now I have been live-blogging as I work though matches for ‘autism’ in IBBY’s guide to “outstanding books” for disabled young people.

@omchildhood tweet promoting the previous posting

Since the previous posting, I have come to feel confirmed in my thinking that live-blogging could be a thing – from reading the draft of a blog by a student I’m currently teaching who has started, excitingly, live-blogging scholarship relevant to the particular mythological topic she is investigating.

As I mentioned in the previous posting, the next match – to something in English – has an attention-grabbing title of Funny, you don’t look autistic. It’s Canadian, again from 2019, by a stand-up comedian, Michael McCeary:

McCreary, Michael (text), Funny, You Don’t Look Autistic Toronto, Canada: Annick Press, 2019 [176pp.] ISBN 978-1-77321-257-9

It’s the first of the matches to be a work of non-fiction: it is presented in the evaluation as “a mix of life story and facts about the subject he knows best – autism” (p.36). It tells about the author’s experiences, for example with bullies, along with what are described as “information sidebars”.

The evaluator concludes by telling the potential reader “what will stick in your mind is a fuller understanding of living life in a different way” (p.36 again). So – the evaluation, though perhaps not the book, is assuming a non-autistic reader wanting to understand an autistic experience. It is not clear if the book is for adults, or children, or for autistic or non-autistic readers.

There is a potential mismatch, then, between the possible readership imagined by the IBBY evaluator and the title of the guide which refers to books “for” disabled young people (emphasis added).

I’ve just done a very quick search for the author. According to what I have found out, he is in his twenties, was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome when aged 5, and – according to the webpage from a the Kingston WritersFest, where he performed in 2019, seeks to address, in his words “the lighter side of Asperger’s” while doing something serious, via comedy as “the only medium…that can turn a perceived disability into a weapon.” It sounds from this very quick and initial dive that the author might very well do his stand-up routines with non-autistic people in mind, though I’m not sure yet. 

The next match – I’d wondered whether there would be another one as I am now quite far down the catalogue – again has a sticking, this time a Bowie-esque, title: Planet Earth is Blue. I’ll get to it as soon as I can – hopefully tomorrow…


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